The BCS What If ... ?: Looking at What the Leading Proposal Might Mean

As you've no doubt heard by now, one of the leading possibilities for the eventual four-team playoff in college football would take the Top 4 teams -- however you devise that -- and place them in the "home" bowls of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams. But what would that mean?

Most of the talk so far about how a playoff might act has been speculative -- looking forward to the exciting games and how a playoff might change the sport. But it's not like we lack real-world examples here. In fact, we have several seasons of data from the BCS that give us an idea of what might happen if we make one major assumption.

That major assumption is that the current BCS formula is the one that is used to decide the four spots. I think that's more likely than not. After all, the BCS formula has been constant since the disastrous split-championship end to the 2003 season: It's the coaches' poll, the Harris poll and the average of the computer polls. And while solutions like a selection committee have been mentioned, the general vibe from the BCS folks seems to be that the format is the thing right now.

And if the formula is left as is -- well, there's still going to be a lot of controversy. In fact, even if the formula were to be changed, there would probably still be a lot of controversy. There is, as myself and others who aren't crazy about the idea of a playoff have been saying for years, no perfect system of choosing a national champion. In fact, there are plenty of examples over the last eight seasons (when the new formula was put into place) when the controversies still would have been heated.

We'll take a look at those eight season today, and look further back into the BCS' history tomorrow. On Friday, we'll consider how things might change under some of the other selection ideas being batted around -- even though I think the odds for any one of those ideas is worse than the odds that BCS stays with what it knows. (If you want a bit more skeletal and Rose Bowl-centric look at the potential match-ups, and what going only with conference champs might mean, Pacific Takes has you covered.)

2011

1 LSU
2 Alabama
3 Oklahoma State
4 Stanford
5 Oregon

This is the year we're all the most familiar with and probably one of the main reasons we're talking about this, obviously. And we've already got a controversy -- not necessarily on Nos. 1-3, if we assume for a moment that we're not in a conference-champions only format. Everyone agrees that LSU, Alabama and Oklahoma State get in. But Oregon beat Stanford in the head-to-head and ended up winning the Pac-12 North and the Pac-12 Championship Game ... but would miss out on the national championship tournament because voters didn't find that more impressive than Stanford for reasons passing understanding? Then again, putting Oregon in the playoff gives us another rematch. And we already have a headache from this format.

The other problem here is that LSU and Alabama are from the same conference, and there can't be two Sugar Bowls. My guess is that one of the other games would have to either be displaced -- maybe the "new" BCS bowl's tie-ins would get pushed aside? -- or that the Fiesta Bowl would be chosen as Alabama's "home" site because Oklahoma State won't be using the Big 12ish berth there. Given that we just came out of the first BCS-era intraconference match-up, you have to think they have a plan for this. Right? Right?

So your first pairing is Stanford/Oregon vs. LSU and Oklahoma State vs. Alabama. Those are both entertaining games that I think LSU and Alabama both win narrowly, but the basis for saying that is pure speculation (except LSU-Oregon, where we at least know what happened when that game was played at the beginning of the season).

2010

1 Auburn
2 Oregon
3 TCU
4 Stanford
5 Wisconsin

I don't see any major land mines here. Stanford has a case for being in the playoff ahead of Wisconsin. So we've got Auburn vs. Stanford in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon vs. TCU in the Rose Bowl. Again, two really good games, and I'm particularly hesitant to choose the winner of the Oregon vs. TCU match-up. But there is a rematch possibility here: Oregon clobbered Stanford by three touchdowns in early October.

2009

1 Alabama
2 Texas
3 Cincinnati
4 TCU
5 Florida
6 Boise State

This is where things start to get very interesting. We've got five undefeated teams at the end of the regular season -- Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State -- and four championship berths to hand out. Add in the fact that we now know that Florida didn't just beat Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl, the Gators destroyed the Bearcats. The same for TCU and Boise, for that matter -- remember that Boise shocked me and a few others by defeating TCU in their bowl.

But if the system is the same ranking system we have now, Florida and Boise are out. Alabama hosts TCU at the Sugar Bowl and Texas plays Cincinnati in the Fiesta Bowl. My guess is that we have the same championship match-up that we had in 2009. But I still think that at least the Sugar Bowl would have been an entertaining game.

2008

1 Oklahoma
2 Florida
3 Texas
4 Alabama
5 Southern Cal
6 Utah
7 Texas Tech
9 Boise State

This year, the four-team playoff idea would have caused a supernova. The top four teams all would have come from the same two conferences. Texas Tech, which was part of the three-way tie with Oklahoma and Texas for the Big 12 South title back when the Big 12 was still the Big 12, would be locked out. So would undefeated Utah and undefeated (until the bowl game) Boise State -- in favor of four one-loss teams from the power conferences. I can almost hear the alternate universe's Tim Brando's screams from here. What a dumpster fire.

Of course, the games probably would be fun and would do relatively well in the ratings department just because of the brand names: Alabama vs. Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Texas vs. Florida in the Sugar Bowl. As a result, we have a strong chance of either a Texas-Oklahoma or Alabama-Florida rematch, the latter having been played in the SEC Championship Game just a month earlier.

2007

1 Ohio State
2 LSU
3 Virginia Tech
4 Oklahoma
5 Georgia
8 Kansas
10 Hawaii

The yelps would have been pretty loud this year as well. Remember how much Georgia fans complained when their team "fell" relative to other teams, and specifically LSU, when everything went haywire in the last week of the season? Now think about the fact that they would now have fallen just one spot outside of the playoff instead of three slots away from where they needed to be.

Also, one-loss Kansas loses out so that no fewer than three two-loss teams can play for the title, while undefeated Hawaii also misses out on the party. I think those decisions actually come under more fire in a four-team playoff -- where space isn't as limited and the "weak schedule" concerns can arguably be "played away" if you give a team the chance -- than in the set-up we have now.

But if we set all of that side for now, Ohio State hosts Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl and LSU takes on Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl in a game that wasn't that good the first time it was played. My guess is that we get the same match-up.

2006

1 Ohio State
2 Florida
3 Michigan
4 LSU
5 Southern Cal
8 Boise State

Boise State went undefeated that year and won a rather stunning Fiesta Bowl, as you might recall. Viva la revolucion?

But the games are good. Ohio State would take on LSU in the Rose Bowl and we would get a resolution to the "Florida or Michigan?" question in the Sugar Bowl. Again, there's a very strong possibility we could end up with a rematch. Three of the four possible championship games are either regular-season rematches or the championship game we got anyway. CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN!

2005

1 Southern Cal
2 Texas
3 Penn State
4 Ohio State
5 Oregon
7 Georgia

I included Georgia only to show where the SEC champion ended up in the rankings that year; it doesn't really weigh on the outcome. This was one of the seasons when we had no major quarrels with the way the BCS worked out and probably wouldn't have major quarrels on who got into the playoffs.

Ohio State and the other USC play a quasi-old school Rose Bowl, given that Penn State actually won the Big Ten that year by defeating the Buckeyes. But the Nittany Lions are actually still in the playoff itself, with a game against Texas in the Fiesta Bowl. Of course, the odds that the then-Pac-10 and the, um, still-then-Big Ten try to squirm their way into a traditional Rose Bowl match-up between Southern Cal and Penn State is somewhere north of 100 percent.

If that happened, it would turn the Fiesta Bowl into what might happen anyway -- a rematch between Texas and Ohio State, who faced off in the second week of the 2005 season.

2004

1 Southern Cal
2 Oklahoma
3 Auburn
4 Texas
5 California
6 Utah
9 Boise State

Boom. This is another barn-burner the minute the final standings come out. Remember all the controversy over Mack Brown's campaign-style speech at the end of the 2004 regular season that helped the Longhorns edge the Golden Bears? Now it's for a shot at the national championship instead of a berth in the Rose Bowl.

The good news for SEC fans in this scenario, of course -- well, with the exception of Alabama and Georgia fans -- is that Auburn gets its shot at the national title in this one.

But there are other problems with this set-up. Undefeated Utah, the original BCS buster, is outside of our playoff, with one-loss Texas (or Cal) taking that final slot. The Broncos, undefeated until their postseason loss to Louisville in the Liberty Bowl, might not have registered in the conversation.

Southern Cal probably faces Texas (unless it faces Cal -- another intraconference rematch!) in the Rose Bowl. Oklahoma and Auburn collide in the Fiesta Bowl Sugar Bowl. If Oklahoma played against Auburn like it played against Southern Cal in the Orange Bowl that year, the Tigers are likely headed to a game against the Rose Bowl winner, which is still Southern Cal in my opinion. If Southern Cal plays Auburn like it played Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl that year, I think the Trojans win a relatively close one.

Thursday: What would have happened before the changes to the BCS formula?

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